Bringing the action home

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:57 AM ET

You might say it's the next best thing to being there. At least CBC Sports thinks so.

When viewers tune into CBC's coverage of the world athletics championships over the next nine days (starting tomorrow), the pictures they see won't look any different. The commentary will come from familiar voices -- Don Wittman, analyst Michael Smith and host Ron MacLean.

But the way it's all being delivered has taken a new turn that is more cost-conscious and, CBC Sports executive producer Terry Ludwick believes, offers improved efficiency.

In other words, the kind of language that's in vogue at the CBC these days.

The "server technology," as it's known, allows most of the CBC production to be done at its home base in Toronto, rather than at the world track venue in Helsinki.

"What it allows us to do is use the existing facilities we already have (in Toronto)," said Ludwick of the technology, which CBC used for part of its 2004 Athens Olympics coverage.

Meaning less production staff are needed in Finland (footage is edited and packaged in Toronto), not to mention all the costs that go along with it.

"If you have to send less people, it's costing you less," said Ludwick. "But this is not just about saving money, it's about using your money more efficiently."

Ludwick and Co. are using the new technology in Helsinki with an eye toward two bigger projects they'll face in the years ahead -- namely, the 2006 Turin and 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"This is a bit of a pilot (project) for Turin," said Ludwick. "The number of feeds you receive from track and field are pretty similar to what you have at (a Winter) Olympics."

"Our job at the Olympics is to manage content, and now we'll able to manage that content from Canada."

So it is, along the same vein, that Brian Williams, the dean of Olympic hosts, will spend the 2006 Games working from the CBC broadcast centre in Toronto (the exception being the opening ceremony, which he'll work in Italy alongside Peter Mansbridge). It's taking a page from Radio-Canada, which had its Athens Games anchors based in Montreal .

"Nobody likes the idea of not going to the Olympics. It's a change," admitted Ludwick. "But (Williams) will still be able to speak to every person he wants to speak to ... his ability to manage content will be every bit as good as or even better than at previous Olympics."

A mega-event, Ludwick added, for which costs continue to spiral into the stratosphere (there are already stories of hotel rooms in Beijing going for $380 US/night). CBC reportedly lost $20 million on the Athens Games.

No doubt a similar balance sheet in Turin simply won't be acceptable.

"The cost of doing an Olympics has outpaced the ability to create revenue to displace it," said Ludwick, who says he's not facing any kind of budget slashing . "I just have to take the dollars I do have and find the best way to use them."

FILLING THE 'NET: No word yet on who will replace Jody Vance on the Thursday-Saturday supper-hour editions of Sportsnet News. As first reported in the Sunday Sun, Vance has left the network to pursue other career opportunities. Her decision has spawned industry chatter about the state of the Sportsnet newsroom. Vance was arguably Sportsnet's most popular personality, and much of the network's promotions were designed around her. It's no minor loss. No wonder a network spokesman said it's important "we get the right person." ... Question that begs asking in the wake of Vance's departure: Was it a mistake to break up the Monday-Friday pairing the 'Net had for about a year with Vance and Jim Van Horne? The two developed a remarkable, fun chemistry almost immediately, and the word is ratings for the early Sportsnet News declined after the split. A case of trying to fix something that wasn't broke, perhaps?

SENS VISION: The Senators' local TV schedule is about a week or two away, but team VP of broadcasting Jim Steel said viewers should expect to see about 20 games on Sportsnet and another 20 or so on the A-Channel. It should all come together fairly quickly after CBC and TSN pick their national games. Dean Brown and analyst Greg Millen are expected to return to the broadcast booth.

WHITHER THE 'GADES? For the second straight week, CBC and TSN are leaving Renegades fans in the dark. Tomorrow night's Ottawa-Hamilton game isn't on TV, and it's the same drill again for the 'Gades' Aug. 19 game in Winnipeg. Given the CFL's burgeoning popularity, isn't it about time every game was televised? A third network partner, perhaps pay-per-view ... it's a situation the league needs to remedy next season.

AROUND THE DIAL: Good news for NFL fans -- TSN is again picking up ESPN's entertaining Monday Night Countdown. The move will make even more sense in 2006, when TSN adds Monday Night Football to the picture ... Must have been lots of bleary-eyed folks across our land last Friday morning. Sportsnet's audience for the Blue Jays-Angels' 18-inning marathon the night before (533,000) was its highest of the season ... Some 266,000 viewers tuned in to Sportsnet on Wednesday night to watch John Daly try to blast a golf ball across Niagara Falls.


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